Bill English got emotional twice today.

The first time was when Parris Bryant, a student at Vanguard military school in Albany, gave a talk after a ferocious welcoming haka and presented him with a bunch of letters from students about why they had ended up there.

The second time was when a reporter later in the day asked why he had got a little misty-eyed and whether he had been trying to "out-emote" Jacinda Ardern (who got teary herself about her grandfather being asked to leave Waikato hospital in the dead of night).

"I think that is a ridiculous statement," the Prime Minister and National Party leader snapped, genuinely offended at the very thought he had contrived an emotional response as part of the election campaign.

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PM Bill English was moved when Vanguard Military School student Parris Bryant presented him with a bunch of letters from students explaining why they ended up there. Photo / Jason Oxenham
PM Bill English was moved when Vanguard Military School student Parris Bryant presented him with a bunch of letters from students explaining why they ended up there. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"I have spent 20 years with young people, working with them, raising them, at their games, in their homes and particularly we've had a strong focus on policy that enables each one of them to get on track."

"What you've heard me say during this campaign to high school audiences is what I've been saying to them since I've been the Finance Minister nine years ago. It is the same message. It's not a matter of out-emoting."

Vanguard Military School students perform a haka in the gymnasium for Prime Minister Bill English and Act Party leader David Seymour. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Vanguard Military School students perform a haka in the gymnasium for Prime Minister Bill English and Act Party leader David Seymour. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

That is not to say that English avoided politics at the charter school.

The very nature of the school is steeped in political history and controversy, being as they are publicly funded independent schools and an initiative of Act.

Act leader and Secretary of Education David Seymour was in on the Prime Ministerial visit.

And politics and the election campaign was very much what English had in mind when he issued a challenge to his political opponents in front of the Year 11 to 13 students.

He told them he was campaigning to continue with "what's lit your eyes up, what's remotivated you, what's made you fine young New Zealanders.

Bill English and ACT Party leader David Seymour speak to students at the Vanguard Military School. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Bill English and ACT Party leader David Seymour speak to students at the Vanguard Military School. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"My challenge to the other political parties is this: I dare them to come down here, look you in the eye and tell you they are going to take away your opportunity.

"Not just say it in the media or in the Parliament or in their party meetings but come here and say it to you. Because I can't see any reason why any adult would want to take away what has created this family, what has fired up your aspiration."

The school, which requires the students to wear a uniform and take part in military drills each day, has no direct link to the New Zealand Defence Force, although some go on to join it.

It opened in 2014 and has roll of 180.

English and his wife Mary joined several students afterwards to talk about what they liked about the discipline of the school.

Prime Minister Bill English chats with Olympic medalist Eliza McCartney and Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack at the AUT Millennium Institute. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Prime Minister Bill English chats with Olympic medalist Eliza McCartney and Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack at the AUT Millennium Institute. Photo / Jason Oxenham

One student, Ashley, who lives in Papakura, leaves home at 5.45 am each day for the trip to school which entails a bus to a train, then a train ride, followed by two more bus rides.

English then went on to the AUT Millennium Institute in East Coast Bays where he and Mary met up with NZ Olympic medallist and pole vaulter Eliza McCartney as though they were old friends - which they are. McCartney's mother went to medical school with Dr English.

He had begun the day at Auckland University's Photon Factory where Professor Cather Simpson showed him how laser research was being used to sort out bull semen into male and female products.